Philip Hoare

The Original Queequeg

The Captain and ‘the Cannibal’: An Epic Story of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage

By James Fairhead

Yale University Press 392pp £25 order from our bookshop

In 1830, Captain Benjamin Morrell, sailing in the uncharted waters of the Pacific far from his New England home, found himself drawn into history. Western contact with the South Seas was limited to whalers and missionaries. This was a virgin world of islands and waters newly opened to exploitation – fragile places, on the brink of ravishment.

From one of those islands, a warrior named Dako looked out and saw strange creatures covered in ‘weird flapping skin’ with no visible penises or anuses. How could they possibly be human? He was about to find out. In the aftermath of a deadly attack from Morrell’s ship, the Antarctic, Dako was captured. He felt he had been taken into the land of the dead.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter